When I was just 10 years old, my father made the life-altering decision to move our family from Pasadena, California to Santa Margarita, California. Although it was only a distance of about 200 miles, it felt like we were traveling from the “Big City” to the “Wild West.” We drove past Santa Barbara, skirted the Los Padres National Forest, zipped by Santa Maria, and arrived at our destination. To say the least, I was not impressed.
My father, a contractor, had the big idea of creating a place where his family and friends could congregate on holidays and reunions, while simultaneously generating income to service and maintain the property. What looked to me like a ranch that needed a lot of work eventually grew into what is now a thriving business, Seven Oaks Ranch.
As I grew up on that ranch, I learned to appreciate the serenity of country life, and the magic of doing nothing, just sitting and listening to nature. The area only has about 1200 residents, but I eventually met some great friends, most of whom were Native Americans, and I felt fortunate to be immersed in a culture so different from my own.
Where is Santa Margarita, California?
Santa Margarita is located on California’s central coast, just north of San Luis Obispo, and in the southern foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The environment is clean and fresh, but the town easily mixes its rich historical narrative with modern-day luxuries. Within easy driving distance are beaches, bays, lakes, mountains and streams, as well as great wine and horse country. Even after traveling extensively, I still find this place to be one of my favorite places in the world.
The Long History of Santa Margarita
The roots of Santa Margarita are said to stretch as far back as 900 B.C. when Native Americans are first thought to have reached California’s central coast area. The first hints of European influence came with the arrival of Spanish explorers in the late 1700s. Using Native American labor, the Franciscan friars who came with these expeditions built several nearby missions including Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (eight miles south of Santa Margarita), its submission Santa Margarita de Cortona, and Mission San Miguel Arcangel (27 miles north of Santa Margarita). In fact, the 600 mile El Camino Real trail, which originally linked the 21 California Spanish missions, now serves as the city’s main street.
In the early 1800s, the Mexican government offered 35 land grants in the San Luis Obispo County area to soldiers who had fought for Mexico in its War of Independence. This led to the early formation of some of the area’s largest ranches. California became part of the United States, the Gold Rush brought new settlers, and the signing of the Land Act of 1851 all caused great changes to the make-up of Santa Margarita. By the late 1800s the railroads established a temporary terminal in Santa Margarita, bringing in an even wider variety of people.
Since these early days, the town has seen many ups and downs, but has always managed to retain its small-town charm. It now prides itself on being a quiet family community that is rich in history and adventure. Even as a 10-year-old boy, it didn’t take me long to discover that life on a ranch can be a very good thing.
Santa Margarita Today
Life if Santa Margarita today is a combination of the old and the new. Visitors can spend the morning horseback riding and then go for a zip line adventure in the afternoon. It’s a unique corner of California that offers a quiet retreat and outdoor excitement.
The Seven Oaks Ranch continues to offer plenty of activities for guests. In addition to exploring the mission trail, other local attractions include:
- Santa Margarita Lake: With thousands of acres of unspoiled open space, this is a nature lover’s retreat. The park is home to countless species of plants and wildlife, making it the perfect location for nature study, hiking, biking, camping, boating, and fishing.
- Wine Tours: This is wine country: Explore over 200 local vineyards including Ancient Peaks Winery, Vintage Cowboy Winery, and Soaring Hawk Vineyards.
- The Barn Antiques and Unique: Find great collectibles and antiques, and local artisan crafts.
- Rinconada Mine: The San Luis Obispo area was once dotted with mines. Hiking around some of the abandoned areas makes for a fun day of exploration.
- Margarita Adventures: Features zipline tours, aerial adventures and nature/wildlife tours.
- Shangri-La Ranch Horseback Adventures: Enjoy horseback riding into some of the most beautiful country on the Central Coast. Ride through sun-dappled forests, pristine meadows, and ancient rock formations. Some wildlife that can be spotted on these tours includes deer, bear, cougars, bald eagles, and all kinds of beautiful birds.
- Hearst Castle: This National/California Historic Landmark was conceived by William Randolph Hearst, the publishing tycoon, and his architect Julia Morgan, and was built between 1919 and 1947.
- Dining: Enjoy dining to satisfy every taste including Pozo Saloon, The Range, The Porch Café, and Rosalina.
Visit the shops of artists of all kinds in Santa Margarita, or take off for the beaches at Cayucos, Morro Bay, Avila and Pismo, just about 45 minutes away.
Let Santa Margarita Teach You About Ranch Life
I live in Santa Barbara now, and still like being a city guy, but some days I can’t stop thinking about Santa Margarita. It certainly contributed a lot to who I am today. It is the story of people working hard to live a good life, in a setting that is peaceful and inspiring.
Seven Oaks Ranch is still owned by my parents, and is now a popular vacation rental destination for family gatherings and weddings. Rolling hills covered with many trees of different varieties surround four seasonal ponds, and streams provide the opportunity to picnic or read a book under an oak giant that has been shading that spot for over 500 years. Visit the website, subscribe to the newsletter, and find out if you will come to appreciate ranch life as much as I did.